Posts filed under Race Reports

The 2015 Morocco Race 65k Race Report

morocco race finish line

  This past November I ran the first edition of the Morocco Race 65km Ultra Marathon. While this wasn't the first ultra race I had ever ran, it was my first in Morocco so I wasn't sure what to expect. 

  Before I get into my race report let me just say that I wasn't expecting to run an ultra last year. I had been training for the 2015 Casablanca Marathon and was surprised one afternoon when my wife told that she had found a new race online and it was going to be only a month after finishing the Casablanca race. Realizing that even though there would be enough time to recover (sort of) but not really enough to retrain for the extra distance, I went ahead and registered. It also helped that the start and finish of the race were only about 45 minutes from Marrakech where I live. 

  Registration was simple enough. They offered online registration for anyone coming in from out of country or for those of us who live locally we were able to register at the new Decathlon sports store right here in Marrakech. I filled out the paper, paid the entry fee and that was it. The only other thing they needed was a doctor's release form saying I was ok to run a long race. 

  All that was left for me was to run the Casablanca Marathon and not get injured. 

Pre-race and check-in

 This is the registration area as well as the start and finish area for the race

This is the registration area as well as the start and finish area for the race

  The day before the Morocco Race my family and I drove up to Teres Armanar. It's a hotel/events/zip line/retreat center located at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and also was playing host to the start and finish area for the race. We had booked a room online and once we got there we were very pleased with the quality of the room. In fact I was impressed many times during our stay at the quality of the place. 

  Next was check-in for the race, which again was super simple as the total number of runners was quite small. I got my race number and a bag with some swag in it. Then it was off to bed. 

The Race

 The fire to warm up at was a nice touch for the 5am start

The fire to warm up at was a nice touch for the 5am start

  The 65km event was set to begin at 5:30am, so after getting ready and having a small breakfast I headed to the starting line. After introductions and some pictures the race was off just a few minutes after the planned starting time. The first hour of the run was in the complete darkness with the only light coming from the headlamps we were all wearing. 

 One of the beautiful views during the race

One of the beautiful views during the race

  If I had had any apprehension that this was going to be an easy run that was all taken away very early. While not crazy steep the trail pretty much was nothing but climbing around 1,800 feet in just the first hour.  In fact by just four hours in I had climbed more than 3,600 feet with very little decent and reached the second highest peak of the race at 7,246 feet. I came to the highest point only an hour later at 7,311ft.

  However, for the majority of the race one of my unfounded worries was about getting lost. Out in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains there may not be a lot of people but there are a lot of trails made by shepherds and their animals. Thankfully, the race course was actually rather well marked. The race organizers used a mixture of bright orange spay paint and flags on trees to mark the way. I only missed one turn, because I was messing with my pack, and got back on track relatively quickly. There was only one place where myself and another runner were unsure of and that was because there were some markings from another race. 

 This was one of the best aid stations during the entire race

This was one of the best aid stations during the entire race

  After climbing for the first four+ hours I came to the first big aid station and took about seven minutes to sit down and refuel. Many of the aid stations just had water, juice, and a selection of dates and bananas, but every few ended up being very well stocked with soup, Moroccan cakes, Coca-Cola, Nutella, fruit, and more. 

  The second half of the Morocco Race, while being mostly downhill still had some massive climbs in it which coming in the second half the race really wiped me out. Since I hadn't really been training in the mountains, that really did me in. By the last four miles I was exhausted. I would manage to jog on some of the downhills and a few of the flat parts of the trail (very rare) but was moving very slowly on the final up-hill climb. 

 Getting my finishers metal after crossing the finish line

Getting my finishers metal after crossing the finish line

  Thankfully the final stretch of the race is all down hill coming into the finish area. This was nice because as I came back into the hotel area I was actually "running" and was able to cross the finish line running with my 4 year old son. My final time 10 hours and 48 minutes with my Garmin saying a total elevation gain of 12,877 feet. 

Final Thoughts

 One of the many mountain villages we passed through during the race

One of the many mountain villages we passed through during the race

  The trails that the Morocco Race took us out on were amazing. I have spent some time in the Atlas before but the views I got during this race were almost unmatched. We ran through villages, forests, bare Rocky Mountain tops, past flocks of sheep and goats, and saw glimpses of the tallest peaks in North Africa. This is definitely a race I will be running again in the future. 

  One note about gear. I would highly recommend that whatever shoes you choose to run in rate well on rough rocky terrain. Much of the trail is covered by pointed rocks that can wreak havoc on a runners feet. 

Posted on September 20, 2016 and filed under Race Reports.

Casablanca International Marathon 2015 Race Report

Casablanca Marathon  finish line

This year was my first time having the opportunity to run the Casablanca Marathon (Grand Marathon International de Casablanca) here in Morocco. Casablanca is one of those cities that I've come to learn that for most people here (locals and expats) either love or only visit if they have too. I'd fall somewhere in the middle and because I've never gotten the chance to do any running there.

It's a huge city with a population of over 6 million people. They have one of Africa's largest malls several Starbucks, and tons of cultural things to visit like the old walled city. But since I have tended to avoid Casablanca for the most part of my time here in Morocco I thought it was time that I got to know the city by running it and what better way than by running the city's only marathon.

Typically the January marathon in Marrakech is my main race that I train for each year but this year I decided to focus my efforts on running the Casablanca marathon for a personal best. It's advertised as very flat. It's at sea level and it's in the late fall making the temperature perfect for a race. So as October 25th approached I felt strong and ready to run a PB in Casa.

Registration

I had planned on registering for the race via the Casablanca Marathon's website (casablanca-marathon.com) but some how I missed the deadline. So, I was in the predicament of having to wait until he day before the race and hope that there were still spots available. Very few races, from my experience, ever sell out here in Morocco, but I had never been to this particular race and I didn't know if the number of runners they advertised as running the race was for just the full marathon or both the full and half distance combined.

As race day got closer my nervous side began kicking in so I attempted to contact the people from the race via the phone number and email on the website but neither got me any response. Finally I sent them a message via Facebook and almost immediately I got a response informing me that it was unlikely that they would run out of spots, as it had never happened before, but that it would be a good idea to try and be there as soon as possible to be on the safe side.

 Casablanca Marathon Village 

Casablanca Marathon Village 

On Saturday afternoon, the day before the race, I made my way to Casablanca from Marrakech and went straight to the marathon village where registration was located. The marathon village was located basically in a dirt parking lot adjacent to the huge Hassan II Mosque. Filling out the forms, paying, and getting my bib ended up taking me all of about 5 minutes and I was left to wander around the 6 or 7 boths that comprised the village advertising an assortment of races in Morocco from distances of 5km to ultras of more than 65km .

Race Day

I spent the night in a hotel about 4 miles from the starting line so I drove over to the start rather than walking. I ended up parking about 1/2 a km from the starting line which was nice as I was 2 hours early for the start. The morning of the race was also the day time changed and locally it typically takes a day or two for everyone and everything to catch up to the new time. So, as I had been unable to get a satisfactory answer the day before about the exact starting time I showed up early, sat in my car, and took a nap.

 Marathon starting line

Marathon starting line

The race started right on time without much fanfare and after the very sudden sound of the starting gun we were off and running. The Casablanca marathon is set up as a two loop course with each loop starting and ending at the same big Hassan II Mosque. Much of the first loop ran us through residential areas that had small slightly rolling hills except for the occasional overpass we ran over. There were even a few locations were there were live bands or djs playing along the route, nice distractions. As far as any marathon I've ever run this first half of the marathon was perfect. Perfect weather, there was a very light rain for about 20 minutes that was really nice. Perfect route. Perfect splits. I nailed each mile exactly as I had trained and planned for. Then came the second 13 miles.

As we started the second loop, which only the first 4 miles are run on the same streets as the first, I could see up ahead that I was catching up to a very large number of people. I had not known that the second half this race was run along with the half marathon runners who had stared just a few minutes before I had started the second loop.

At first this wasn't an issue as most of the people I was passing in the beginning were walking or jogging slowly off to the side. But the farther I went the larger the crowd got and groups of runners were running down the street 5 to 8 across making it difficult to continue running in a straight line but I began to have to weave in and out of these groups. After a few miles of this, the route turned to the left and led down to the coastal road that follows along Casablanca's beach area. This was a nice change of scenery but I was still having to weave between runners and it was taking a toll on my pace.

Then we hit the hill. Yes, I've given it the name "the hill" for two reasons. 1) It was the bigger one of only two hills of any significance that we had to run. 2) It came at the end of the race and it had to be ran up twice. In all honesty, it really wasn't that big but since I wasn't expecting it and because it came at the end to the race, twice, it ruined me.

After descending "the hill" we continued down the coast and got to run through a brand new adventure park that has a zoo in it. I can honestly say this was a first. Running past huge lions and tigers and giraffes was really awesome. After leaving the zoo the course doubles back on itself and we began running back down the coast the way we had come to the finish line which was also on the coast in the shadow of the giant mosque but first we had to reclimb "the hill".

By this point I had lost the ability to set a new personal best. Now I just hoped to finish well. About half way up "the hill" for the second time I slowed to a very brisk walk but a walk nonetheless, it had beat me. I had done no hill training whatsoever. Marrakech (where I train) is so very flat.  And this hill at the end just 2 or 3 miles from the end got me and the thing that bothers me is it wasn't even that big of a hill it was just big enough.

After making it over my new nemesis it was a straight shot to the finish line. No other obstacles and the crowds had thinned enough to make the last few miles an easy run in. I crossed the finish line with a time of 3:28. Not my best but a time that still makes me happy.

 After crossing the finish line

After crossing the finish line

Post Race Thoughts

I really enjoyed running the 8th Annual Casablanca Marathon this year. It was very well organized. The route was lined by volunteers helping to point you in the right direction and cheer you on. The organizers did a great job working together with the local police to control Casablanca's notorious traffic, there was only one spot that I remember where there were cars I had to run around, which amazed me.

I can definitely recommend this race as worth doing if you are going to be in the area next year. Am I going to run it again? Next year, no, I've got some other races I'd like to do and Casablanca just doesn't fit in the schedule but I do still have some unfinished business left there with "the hill". So, I will be back to run this race again but I will just have to wait and see when.

Did you run the Casablanca Marathon or the Casablanca Half Marathon this year? If so what were your thoughts or if you're planning on running it next year let us know in the comments below.


Posted on December 17, 2015 and filed under Race Reports.

The 2015 Marrakech International Marathon Race Report

Marrakech Marathon 2015

  This was my third year in a row running the Marrakech International Marathon here in Morocco. Since I live in Marrakech I chose to use this race as my main marathon, my "A" race, for the last three years. And each time I have run the race I have set a new personal best time and this year was no different. The weather couldn't have been nicer on race morning and the crowd assembled to run the race this year was excellent and as always I'm  amazed at just how many non-Moroccans show up to run the race. 

Registration

   I decided this year again to wait until race weekend before registering for the race. The worrier that I am always gets very nervous in the weeks leading up to the big race not because I'm nervous about the race but because I'm worried about the race filling up and there not being any spots. This is a completely unfounded fear since the marathon, while having a large number of runners, in my experience is far from filling up. That being said I've never found a maximum number of runners allowed so in theory It could fill up (notice the worrying side of me).

  So, with these worries in mind my family and I returned to Marrakech from a few days of traveling just in time to head down to the Marrakech Marathon Village (their version of a marathon expo). Registration went with out any problem. I got my race bib and t-shirt, wandered around for a bit then headed home to rest up for the next day. 

Race

  One of my dreams is to qualify and run in the Boston Marathon so every year my goal is to try to get my marathon time down a little more in effort to reach a qualifying time for Boston. I know I'm still far from qualifying for it but I figure little by little I'll get there. So, again this year I was aiming to improve a little more towards my goal. Okay not a little, a lot. I was hoping to knock 15 minutes off of last years PB and finish with a 3:15 - 3:18.  

  Since the race start is only an eight minute drive from my house I drove down to the old city (the race start/finish area is just outside one of gates in the old city walls) and found parking just a few minutes before the race start. While Marrakech is a big city, more than a million people, the race isn't really that big. So, the starting area was not overly crowded as is the case every year. However, the line for the porta-toilet was very long.

  A few minutes after eight o'clock the pros were off followed immediately by the rest of us. The first few miles of marathons are always the most fun to me. Your running with hundreds or thousands of other runners just like you. And at most races that aren't wave starts you get to weave in and out of all the slow people that lined up at the front. Making you feel faster than you really are. 

  The first half the race was the most enjoyable 1/2 marathon I've ever run. As we ran past Marrakech's awesome train station then through the historic Menera Gardens, then past the pit area for the Marrakech Grand Prix race that's held here every year, then to finish out the first half the race the course runs down a road through the Old Royal Agdel Gardens and off to a short detor out of the city, I was in my zone. Relaxed. Focused. On pace. All the training I had done this year was paying off and I was enjoying the moment. 

  Then came the turn after Bab Al Khamis, around mile 15. It wasn't that my race fell apart it just began to slow down and not even by a lot but the week of traveling and the tons of walking we had done the week prior was wearing on my legs.

  So, while I was slowing down the race took its turn into the Palmeraie area of Marrakech. Possibly the most beautiful part of the entire city. There isn't a single place that could have gotten me distracted from my tiredness like running through the palm groves and past camels. Its really an interesting place and you never really know what you might see out there. This helped me pick my speed back just enough. 

  For me the hardest part of the Marrakech Marathon is the last 6 miles of the race. This sounds like a rather stupid thing to say because most people would agree that after running 20 miles the last 6 would be the toughest, but while I agree there is also the added fact that this section has the only "uphill" section of the race. Once you leave the Palmeraie the last 6 miles to the finish line is all "uphill". Notice that I put that word in quotes. For most people the amount of elevation change would hardly justify calling this section uphill but after running on flat road or downhill for 20 miles I've discovered that any amount of incline can be difficult and for the last three years this is where the race has really taken its toll on me. 

   Eventually I made it back to the center of town turned the final left and ran my hardest to cross the finish strong. I finished with a 3:22, not the 15 minutes I wanted to shave off but a solid ten minute personal best. And that makes me happy.

Post Race Thoughts

  So, after running another year in the Marrakech International Marathon I walked away (very slowly and tenderly) happy with the race, the excellent weather, and ready to run it again next year. 

  My only recommendation is to be careful at the finish line area. Every year they are making huge improvements on this but there is still  some area for improvement. Since the two races are finishing at roughly the same time there are a lot of people crossing the finish line all at once and for the slightly more tired people it can be a little difficult to find a place to catch your breath. 

  I'd recommend getting your metal, water, and banana they offer at the end and moving done the street a little ways to find a place to sit. 

  Other than that I really recommend the Marrakech International Marathon be your next destination race. It's budget friendly, it's a great flat course, the weather is awesome, and you couldn't be running an a more awesome city. 

Posted on July 24, 2015 and filed under Race Reports.

2013 Marrakech 10k Race Report

 

  A few weeks ago I began my training for the 2014 edition of the Marrakech marathon that will be in January. I have not had a recent race (my last race was the Rabat Half Marathon in April). So, when a friend sent me a message this past Friday asking if I was running the Marrakech 10k (Rahal Marrakech International 10k) on Sunday I was surprised because I didn't even know this race existed. However, I saw an excellent opportunity to get a good baseline for my training. I found a little bit of information about the event on the website running.ma but no info about where or how to register. I ended up calling a number I found on the site and they told me that registration could be done on Saturday afternoon in the park in front of the McDonald's in Guiliz (the downtown part of Marrakech).

  On Saturday afternoon, after my run,  I went to the park and found quite a bit going on. There wasn't an expo like at the marathon but they were building the grandstands, starting arch, and the finishers' podium. I easily found the registration tent and filled out the form along with registering two of my friends. The entry fee was 50 dirham for Moroccans and 100 dirham (about 10 euro) for all foreigners and this included a race t shirt. A good deal in my opinion seeing that a 5k in the US typically starts around $25. I got our race numbers, looked over the over the race map, and then went home to try and figure out how I wanted to run this last minute race.

 Registration

Registration

 Finishers Podium

Finishers Podium

  As I said, I had registered some friends to run the race as well so they stopped by our house on Sunday morning dropped their children off and we carpooled to the start of the race. On the way there they were talking about their race plans and what pace they were aiming for and when they asked me I still had not decided how I wanted to run it, easy and enjoyable or hard and try for a PR. In the end I didn't decide until the gun went off and I crossed the starting line. After we got to the starting area and made our necessary stops at the portatoilets we noticed that a rather large and festive group had formed in the middle of the road to do some stretching pre-race led by a very energetic lady. 

 Time to Stretch

Time to Stretch

  At about 5 minutes before the start of the race the race officials opened up the starting area for all the runners to line up. prior to this no one was allowed to line up in the area in front of the starting line.  Then, as I have come to understand is the norm here, without any announcements or countdown the starting gun is shot and off the mass of runners go. 

  While it took me the better part of a minute to get to the starting line thankfully the course was chipped timed which was nice because at the 5k point there was a timing line that recorded everyones' 5k split. As I ran across the starting line I decided to run the race hard but not to hard as to mess up the rest of my training.  The course led us down the road from the park to and past the Marrakech train station. Then it followed almost the identical route as the marathon for about the next few kilometers. We ran to a side entrance to the Menara Gardens and then followed the paved walking path around the lake and out the other side. from there we made our way to the road that the airport is on and then headed back to the city. 

 Halfway point

Halfway point

  At this point, over halfway through, I began to chat with a few of the people around me. I talked with about four different people and found out that for three of them, this was their first time running a 10k race. Moroccans are just good runners. Maybe its the amount of vegetables they eat or the vast amounts of walking they do but for a lot of people here they seem fit without having to do much training. Once I figure out their secret I will pass it on to you all. 

  As we neared the 2k sign I picked up my speed a little, I had fallen in behind a small group of guys that were keeping my pace but were doing it without much effort. They were joking with every police officer they passed, smiling for any camera they saw, and high-fiving and one that would give them a five. They made this pace seem so easy and their energy helped me, that is until we turned the last corner and saw the finish line. When we was within sight of the finish they took off in what seemed like a 100m race in the Olympics. Needless to say I got dropped but was able to cross the line strong with a PR by 3 minutes from my last 10k. 

  After finishing the race I was given a finishers medal and a water bottle. I ended up waiting around the finish line for my friends to cross. It was really nice to see how many people were hanging out at the finish area cheering on every runner that came in all 700+ of them. 

  I did forget to mention above that there were two water stops, one in Menera gardens just over 2 miles into the race and a second one at about 4 miles. I really enjoyed the International Marrakech 10k race this year. Although it was a last minute thing for me I had a really good time running with so many other people. If your in town next year on the weekend of this race I would highly recommend you run it. If your staying near to old square in a hotel or riad it is just a 10 minute walk from the square to the starting line. 

  I added below a video I took. It is from the start of the race as we were all lining up. If you ran the race this year or in years past let me know what you thought about the race below in the comments then get out and train for next race in Morocco. 

 

Posted on November 18, 2013 and filed under Race Reports.